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Thursday, August 11, 2011

M & M Boys: Together Again

If I had the ability, or time, I would try to Photoshop an image of of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau holding hands as they strolled down a sidewalk in Central Park, bundled up to protect against the harsh late-fall wind; or perhaps as they clinked wine glasses in the back corner of an elegant French restaurant, leaning toward each other illuminated only by candlelight; or maybe just an image of them cozying up by a fire in a Northwoods lodge. It would have been great.

But you get the picture: they will be back together in the lineup Friday, and hopefully for the remainder of the season. Too little, too late, certainly. Nonetheless, this is good news for Twins fans. Morneau has been "killing the ball" at AAA Rochester, and was anxious to join the real club. Mauer, for his part, has been in the lineup almost every game and, though the HR total remains at 1, he has been flirting with .300, has been having quality at-bats, and has been driving in runs when there are runners to drive in.

Pat Reusse and others have noted that, since Morneau's concussion on July 7, 2010, the M & M boys have played in 9 games together out of a total 195 games. That is less that 5 percent of the schedule. If you're wondering why the Twins were again swept in the playoffs in 2010, and why the team has been unable to play .500 baseball in 2011, that might be the most telling statistic. Let's put aside for the moment the starting rotation, the awful bullpen that was gutted by Bill Smith, the shaky middle infield and the host of other injuries. The 2 former MVPs have both been shelved for significant amounts of time, and, when healthy, have rarely appeared on the field together.

One of the reasons that Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have achieved success in New York is because, more often than not, they are the 3 and 4 hitters in the Yankees' lineup. With A-Rod batting behind Teixeira, it's not possible for opposing pitchers to simply "pitch around" Teixeira, as A-Rod (when healthy), is still a force to be reckoned with. Similarly, in Boston, as Twins fans have just witnessed, Kevin Youkilis is a great hitter, and David Ortiz still has pop in his bat. With Ortiz a constant power threat, and with Youkilis' ability to reach base, pitchers are forced to give league-leading hitter Adrian Gonzalez hittable pitches. They can't just walk him and know that Youkilis or Ortiz will make an out.

And so it is too in Minnesota. When healthy, M & M are still two of the best hitters in the game, and are just as good of a 3-4 combination as exists. But one without the other just isn't the same (sort of like Bert & Ernie). As good as he has been this year, Michael Cuddyer is not the same cleanup hitting threat that Justin Morneau was, for example, in the first half of 2010 (.345, 18 HRs, 56 RBIs, if you had forgotten). For the Twins to work offensively, M & M have to bat 3 and 4, and have to be healthy. As we have seen this year, the fallout from either player being injured and on the DL, or being significantly injured/impaired/bilaterally weak and still playing, is too great for the team to function for large stretches of the season.

Let's hope that the results we see in August and September, 2011, give us optimism for what could be next year. A batting order that begins Span, Revere, Mauer, Morneau, and either Cuddyer/Good Delmon/Free Agent Stud, looks pretty good to this fan.

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